Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How Long Is a Gorilla’s Penis When Fully Erect

The ditto machine, an early copier. A little before my time.
Once upon a time, before Wikipedia allowed us to research delicate matters with discretion, a Cosmo fact checker was given a manuscript entitled "That Marvelous Male Member." The assignment: to verify every factual item in the 1,500-word article. Now, when this fact checker, who happened to be a rookie (less than a week on the job), got to the part about the astonishing length of an adult gorilla’s erect penis, he called the Bronx Zoo and asked to speak with a primatologist. After a long, painful introduction (“I work at Cosmo and I’m checking this article and I know it sounds crazy but . . .”) the checker could procrastinate no longer. Out popped the question. “Four centimeters,” said the zoo guy without hesitation. As if he got asked this question every day. “That’s one-point-five inches,” he added helpfully. The researcher, my friend Steve, remembers this incident as if it was yesterday. The primatologist’s answer, 1.5 inches, was of course correct—a gorilla’s penis is astonishingly puny. Steve reminded me, however, that despite everything he went through to get this detail right, the magazine got it wrong. Apparently, some incredulous copy editor, stunned that Mother Nature had dealt the gentle giant such a low blow, changed “length” to “width” and “erect” to “flaccid.” I was reminded of this incident during a recent Facebook discussion of The Way We Worked, now showing at AVA Gallery in Lebanon. Many thanks to my friend Lori Flint for her mention of microfiche, which launched a flood of memories. In my next post I will tell you about the Kensington Ladies Erotica Society, a romance with Simba the ape, and my brief career as a sex expert for the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Liquid Paper, Carter's Overalls, and the Way We Worked

Thelma Follensbee, 94, photographed by Jack Rowell. Thelma worked in the H.W. Carter and Sons clothing factory in Lebanon, NH, from age 16 until it closed in 1985. Jack's portraits of former Carter workers will be shown at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon through January in conjunction with the Smithsonian's traveling exhibit "The Way We Worked." 

I don't know about you, but nothing makes me feel quite so old-fogeyish as thinking about the way I used to work. Remember Liquid Paper? We went through gallons of it at Cosmo in the 1980s. Putting together the magazine required wax machines, X-acto knives, toxic chemicals, and many workers. It required a typesetter (remember them?), who was located in Indiana. It required a messenger named Louie, who came to the office every day at 4 o'clock and took "the pouch" to LGA, where it was put on a plane to Indiana. Despite the slowpoke technology, the work got done in a timely manner. Then publishing went digital. Companies downsized. You could make a correction in an eye-blink, but you worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week. The Way We Worked, a collaboration between the Smithsonian and a bunch of local orgs, opens this weekend at the AVA Gallery in New Hampshire and I wish I could go. The building that now houses AVA used to be the H.W. Carter factory, makers of overalls and other work clothes. The factory closed in 1985, but some of the workers are still around, including 94-year-old Thelma Follensbee, photographed by my friend Jack Rowell, who has eight portraits in the show. Talk about hardworking. Jack (who is my age) and Thelma are two of a kind. Jack has an old Subaru crammed to the gills with photographic equipment. Before I can get in the Subie, Jack has to spend half an hour clearing a space for my butt. And my butt is not that big. I mean, that’s how dedicated he is: His car is not a chick mobile, it's a photography studio on wheels. I’m tickled that Jack’s work will be shown in tandem with the Smithsonian exhibit. The show runs through January. Check out the special events and the lecture series here. PS: Jack lives on Fogey Drive in Braintree, Vermont. And Liquid Paper was invented in 1951 by Bette Nesmith Graham, a typist who made lots of mistakes. Bette made the first few batches in a blender in her kitchen. She called the product Mistake Out and offered it to IBM; the company said no thanks. Bette renamed it Liquid Paper and continued to make it in her house. In 1979, the Liquid Paper Corporation was sold to Gillette for $47.5 million with royalties. Sometimes, there is justice. PSS: Bette’s son Mike Nesmith, guitarist/singer of The Monkees, inherited her fortune.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chez Mireille: Echoes of My Mother's House

Mireille's recliner.
My mother's house in Vermont, where I grew up and where I've lived for the past five years, is stuffed with memories. My parents bought the house in 1945 and raised their five children there; it was a gathering place for the extended family for 67 years. Soon after Mom died, I began going through all twelve rooms, plus closets and attic (I skipped the basement), inventorying the contents and compiling a photo album for my siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. After three months of steady work, I was drowning in memories—I needed to get away! Patrick suggested Fontainebleau, the home of his mother. My mother-in-law now lives in Paris; her apartment has been unoccupied for over two years. Patrick got here first and began dusting and sweeping. He threw out the many bouquets of dead flowers. He made friends with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker (okay, the Internet service provider). I arrived to find everything shipshape. I also arrived mentally exhausted and physically ill (I had the flu). Now I am well on the road to recovery. But is it me, or are there striking similarities between my mother-in-law's very French apartment and my mother's very New England house? Everywhere I turn, I am reminded of home. Some of the reminders are funny, some are banal, and some move me almost to tears. Below are 14 photos—7 taken in Randolph, 7 in Fontainebleau. More to come. Please do scroll to the end—the items in the last photo will never be seen again. And look hard: Eventually, there will be a quiz.
The coffee table in Mireille's living room.
The windowsill above Idora's kitchen sink.
Maurice Texier, 1940-something.
Idora and Ransom Tucker, 1940-something (Dad's in uniform).
A Provençal landscape, by Mireille Texier.
A Vermont landscape, by Ransom Tucker.
Detail of a plate displayed in Mireille's dining alcove.
A plate displayed in Idora's dining room.
Miniatures kept hidden in a box.
Cork people by Sara Phillips, kept hidden in a pouch.
A collection of stuff that might be useful someday . . . 
. . . but probably not.
Souvenir from a beach holiday (Spain, perhaps?)
Souvenir of a trip to the Georgia coast with me.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Glamorous Life

Kelly and Forrest at home.
Thank God for Facebook. France is great, but I have not spoken with a single soul since arriving here two weeks ago, except my husband and the lady at the bank who filled out the papers for my debit card. She was very nice, but we really only talked about where I was born, what I do for a living (“auteur”) and the Randolph zip code—the last subject was discussed at some length. The bank lady’s computer wanted to know all nine digits of the code and refused to give me a card without them (they are 1337, I discovered after a Google search). I also had a brief but pleasant conversation with an elderly gentleman in the park who wanted to know if I was enjoying my walk (“Tu boulevarde?”). I responded with a look that said, “huh?” The elderly gentleman then proceeded to illustrate his question by dancing a little two-step jig like Zorba the Greek. We smiled. Other than that, my social life has been confined to Facebook.
     A few of the highlights from my news feed: A link to an article about my Randolph neighbor, Renaissance man Forrest MacGregor, profiled in the Randolph Herald by my friend Dian Parker. I am only slightly hurt that I—a college dropout who rescues dangling participles for a living—was not personally mentioned by Forrest in the following quote: “Vermont is a unique place. Here you have a cheese maker with a PhD. A farmer who studied at Vermont Law School. An engineer who sculpts. Such pockets of novelty! It is a place where the mind can flourish.” Forrest is currently working on a piece of performance art that involves an 1881 Mosler safe and a sledgehammer.
    Patrick, by the way, has accused me of mentally stalking Forrest and his wife, the lovely and talented Kelly Green. He thinks I’m obsessed with them. In my latest Forrest-and-Kelly dream, I went to their house and let myself in. This is not stalking. We are neighbors. Remember how Ethel on “I Love Lucy,” would just waltz into Lucy and Ricky’s apartment whenever she felt like it? She never knocked. Neither did I (in the dream, I mean). Anyway, I was barely inside the Green-MacGregor house when I heard somebody snoring, and I tiptoed out. End of dream.
    In other news: My cousin Paul is, on last report, migraine-free. He was last seen on Sylvia Cooley’s time-line looking aesthetically challenged (from a fashion standpoint) as a preteen in plaid pants. (Don't you just love oldies?)
     Now I am going to call my aunt Ruth and my aunt Lois and then watch TV with my husband. And thus begins another glamorous week in France.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Sunday Stroll in Early December

Around the corner . . . 
. . . and into the park . . . 

. . . then along the canal . . . 

. . .  past an army of shrubs . . . 

. . . over the cobblestones . . . 

. . . and under the nose of the castle guard . . . 

. . . to the duck pond. Et voila: My Sunday stroll.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Ménage à Trois, a Duel, and a Day for Poetry

What have I been up to since arriving in France? Well you might ask. Here is a partial list of my activities for the past 72 hours:

Snorkeling in the Caribbean with my friends Kelly Green and Forrest MacGregor (pictured below). We left Randolph, Vermont, by boat on Wednesday, returned by boat later that day, and in between, saw many fish, mostly rays, and lots of pretty blue waves. This innocent escapade inspired a torrent of rumors in the town of Randolph, all of them disappointingly false.

Dueling. My opponent was somebody male, with dark, shoulder-length locks—d’Artagnan, perhaps? Various weapons were employed, most memorably a dagger. We fought to a draw.

Working in a welding studio. My job, key grip, involved moving many large pieces of equipment around. When I got tired of this, I reminded my boss, Allan Mayer, that we had been promised time off in honor of National Poets Day.

Brokering an arms deal with the help of my friend Hank Buermann. Hank was in charge of sales; I arranged the financing, aided by my sister Martha. A large shipment of weapons was involved, for sale to the highest bidder. I made several clandestine trips to a Swiss bank, in an effort to obtain $40,000 in financing. In the end, Martha and I resorted to a bundle of personal loans from friends, who were understandably reluctant to sign an affidavit, required by federal law, stating that they had been informed of the purpose of the loan. It was all very stressful. Somehow the Hale Street Gang was involved—as investors, I believe.

Designing curtains for a friend's new store. During a lengthy consultation with my client, Nancy MacDowell, the term "sheer" came up—a term I defined as “like looking at something through the fog.” 

To backtrack: I arrived at Orly Airport on Wednesday afternoon, four hours late and suffering from a relapse of the flu. For the past three days, I have been recuperating. My chief remedy has been sleep. But a very fitful, restless sleep, filled with exhausting dreams. Maybe the local cough medicine is to blame. I have never done any of the above in real life, I promise. 
My snorkeling chum Forrest MacGregor. Photo by Jessamyn West.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bad and Badder

My winter in France began with a trip to New York, where I visited my rock-star pal Barbara Gogan. Barb's hit single "I'm in Love with a German Film Star" topped the charts in 1981. We met in New York in the 1990s and have been friends ever since. I've been working on a piece about the time we spent in the trenches at a women's sports mag, where our boss, Johnny D (love that man), dubbed us Bad and Badder. Who was who? That depended. On many things.

Barb talking on the phone in her Greenpoint apartment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Start of a New Adventure

Why do I blog? To connect with people, that's why. My first blog, The Hale Street Gang and Me, was all about the people I met at the Randolph Senior Center, and the stories we shared. This blog will be about the next chapter of my life, the one that will take me to Fontainbleau, France, twelve days from now. For the past few weeks, I've been saying good-bye to my friends in Vermont, whom I won't see again until May 2013. That's my sister Martha in the driver's seat of the Corvette above, with me on my last afternoon in Vermont. Now I'm in New York, spending a few days with my friends at Condé Nast Traveler. I'll fly to France on November 27. While there, I'll do some work for Traveler, I'll write my next book, and I'll tell you about life in Fontainbleau via this blog. But who is this Sadie person, you ask. Why, me, of course. (It's the pen name I use in private emails to my editor and a few other VIPs). And who will my "company" be? No clue. But if I knew, it wouldn't be an adventure, would it?